The blond cowboy sighed as he stared into the roaring flames of the fire in the large fireplace. Being in a room with so many fancy, intricate, decorations made him uneasy, he just wasn't used to it. Growing up in Strawberry he and his Mama we're thankful if they even got a Christams tree, and even if they did it was puny. It still amazed him how much his new family could spend on little trinkets that would only be on display a couple of weeks out of the year, and then stored in boxes the rest of it.
He supposed he should have been used to it by now, the Barkley's being somewhat ostentatious and all, but he wasn't. Then again, when he thought about it more, he didn't really know if he ever would be. But he was lucky to be blessed with a family that didn't care if he was used to it or not, they just loved him fro who he was. Which was a lot more than he had ever hoped to deserve.
Jarrod could sense Heath's uneasiness from across the room. The lawyer didn't really blame him, because he himself was uneasy also, just for a different reason. It wasn't that he didn't like Heath, quite the contrary, he was proud to call him brother. He remembered when the cowboy had first announced his claim to his part of the Barkley holdings. Jarrod shook his head, looking back it was hard to believe that he had actully tried to buy Heath off with three-hundered dollars, money he could clearly see that this stranger needed. However, Heath had refused, and stuffed the cash in a glass of whiskey.
And then, when no one else believed him, he fought alongside his brothers, the very ones who had refused him. He fought anyway, to protect something that had been denied him. It was then that Jarrod realized that thi man had to be his brother, because if he wasn't he wouldn't have risked his neck for something that wasn't his.
No, liking Heath was not the problem, he very much admired him. He just still couldn't believe that his father had fathered an illegitimate child. Here he was in the same room with the product of his father's marital unfaithfulness. But putting his own feelings aside, he knew that Victoria had to be taking it harder than anyone else.
Nick's stomach churned. Normally he was the type of man who would eat just about anything placed in front of him. BUT NOT THOSE COOKIES!!!! He just KNEW Audra had baked those. He understood and apprieciated his little sister's efforts...but that didn't mean he actually had to EAT them. However, he couldn't help but feel deep sympathy for poor Heath, he hadn't inquired as to who had baked the cookies, and then had to pretend that he had enjoyed them. But then again, after he stayed around the house a little while longer he would know as well as Nick did that Audra's food just had a certain LOOK about it.
It was still somewhat hard for Nick to admit that Heath was his brother, but at least now he was past the phase of denying it. Now he could ALSO admit that in the beginning he had done some not-very-nice things to Heath. Things that probably placed him in a permanent spot on Santa's naughty list. But now was the time to put that behind him and try to build a bond with his new little brother.
Audra smiled at her two oldest brothers, trying to pretend they weren't staring at Heath. She knew they were just trying to make sure their new little brother was enjoying his first Christmas at the ranch. Even she did her part, she made cookies. Making Heath feel welcome was a new improvement for Nick, considering he hadn't fully accepted Heath until the Evan Miles incident. She remembered vividly the pain and fury in his eyes as he awaited news about Heath's condition after he'd been shot, something Nick didn't usually let people see, and that he only displayed when the ones he really loved and cared about were hurt.
She too had had her own reservations about the whole ordeal of Heath becoming a Barkley. Which was funny, because she was one of the first to accept him as an equal. Like all her siblings, minus Heath, she had wanted to believe that her father was perfect, that he cared for everything and everyone, and never did anything to hurt anyone. But in that very living room was proof that Tom Barkley wsa NOT perfect. He may not have ever meant to hurt Heath, he didn't know him, but nevertheless he had.
But now it didn't matter to Audra what happened a long time ago between her father and Leah Thomson. What mattered was that Heath was here now, he was her big brother, and she ws his little sister, and she was going to treat him with all the respect and dignity he deserved.
All siblings had their own opinions about Heath, likewise he had his own opinions about them. They all knew what traits that they liked or disliked about each other. But they were going to use those traits to their advantage, to get them through this first Christmas. All of them. They were in this together.